Going digital

How to pick your next digital agency


How to pick your digital agency

If you aren’t already online, you probably want to be. And if you are a company, you are looking for a business partner who is a one stop solution to all your web woes. In India, going digital has only been a recent trend and it is quite surprising how some companies pick their digital agencies. Here are a few pointers to being smart about your pick and how to ensure that you get the most out of your agency.

The big picture: digital creative shop or integrated agency?


A common starting point for companies who are thinking of going digital is to first approach the current agency that handles their commercials and print work. This is especially attractive for the risk averse, as you are dealing with people who you know and who have worked with your  brand for quite some time. So this makes sense right? Hold on to your horses! There is another choice. The new digital chop shops creative boutiques / agencies which have been grown from the ground up digital. Often new kids on the block, these eager beavers are just itching to get their claws into your business. So which is the better of the two evils? Here are some considerations:


Digital Agency

Integrated Agency


  • Built from the ground up with a bunch of specialists, most team members have never worked on any other medium and are bred to push digital to the fore.
  • Operations are streamlined with well- established processes and they eat and sleep digital
  • They have well-structured and equipped teams that have more ‘digital’ resources such as proprietary tools at their disposal



  • If they are your existing brand custodians, they will know your brand in and out
  • Usually you will have a ‘relationship’ to fall back on or arm twist
  • They can easily extend the online execution with an offline activation and a 360 degree campaign
  •  Their experience in television commercials often forms a backbone when it comes to create video content for the web


  • They struggle to extend the campaign beyond the digital realm having to work with third parties to do so
  • They can be so focussed on their medium, that they fail to see the bigger picture
  • They can become tech crazy instead of focussing on the brand benefit and are often swayed by design and tech trends that are in vogue – parallax websites for example
  • When it comes to creation of assets, the digital agency may need to work hand in hand with your offline agency, which can be tough to say the least
  • A predominantly young team often means that they are digital natives and have grown up with the technology. They are well versed with new developments online.


  • Since they have years of experience in the traditional mediums, a digital component is often just ‘slapped on’ or a last minute thought
  • There could be a lot of heart burn and lack of co-ordination internally between the new digital team and the traditional account holders and ‘bread earners’ of the agency
  • While the teams are built with diverse talent, a lot of digital skills have been acquired on the fly ad piecemeal in the belief that everyone can do digital
  •  With low margins, costs are often cut and you might not be working with the best of talents. Predominantly ‘young’ teams could also mean they lack the creative discipline and experience that you may be used to while working on your traditional mediums in the same agency

Things to watch out for:

  • Know the team. Sounds kind of basic right? Watching how your agency works will tell you a lot about them.  This is an excellent way to gauge the amount of resources in terms of people that are at the agency’s disposal. You really get to know who  are working ‘exclusively’ on your account  and who is a shared resource. It is important to understand if the agency is stretching themselves too thin by taking on more than they can handle. Some of the smartest clients I have known decided during a certain project to come over to the agency and watch us work and help us in the process. It isn’t easy to pull wool over sharp eyes if you are sitting in your agency for a week or two. When it comes to team strength, seeing is believing. What is the right team size? Bare minimum is a dedicated writer, designer, HTML CSS coder and database / CMS expert along with a project manager. In fact, most of the time you would need two of each, even for a small size project.


  • Know the tech partners and vendors. As a result of point one, the agency might be just a middle person and doing their work through a lot of vendors. This keeps the agency cost down and the profits high (at the cost of a higher risk). In fact this is very likely that the agency designs the project, its parameters and a vendor actually builds it. What will ensue is a tug of war between you the client, the agency and the vendor. I know some agency work on one ‘option’ by themselves while outsourcing another creative option to another vendor.


  • Know what it’s worth. There is a fine line between getting more bang for your buck vs buying an inferior project that is going to take a lot more to fix or redo in the long run. Be wary of an agency that is offering to do your complex website for peanuts. If it sound too good to be true, it often is.


  • Check out the agency’s presence online. A lot can be learnt about an agency with regards to its digital presence – website, facebook, twitter etc. It takes resources and time to maintain this. While it shows commitment to the medium, work on this is often the first to be sacrificed for paying clients. An agency that can handle its paying clients and still is active in a relevant manner on its website and across social media is really taking the pains and doing something right.


  • Start with a pilot project. This will help gauge your agency’s skills.


  • Size does matter. Doesn’t it? If you opt for a large networked agency, you could possibly tap into skills that are outside the domestic market. However larger agency at the end of the day have their own fair share of red tape, while smaller agencies can adapt quicker. Though it could be said that the collected intelligence of the larger agency balances the scales.


  • Ensure your agency doesn’t skimp on documentation during the initial phase. You might discover that the site you envisioned doesn’t quite look like anything that the final product resembles. The only thing you have to fall back on is the original documentation, which should be water tight. If certain features are dropped you should be asking for monetary compensation or substitute features in its place.


  • Hand in hand with the documentation is the project timeline. Building any digital product takes a lot of time. More time in fact than you might be accustomed to compared with traditional campaigns. Your agency should be able to provide a timeline that gives an accurate break up of tasks. It is critical to work with the dedicated project manager to ensure that there are no road blocks from both the agency and client side. Build in periodic progress checks to ensure that the agency isn’t executing everything at the last minute and failing to rigorously test the final product.


  • Insist on a clear break up of costs for each component of the web development project and ensure that you get the bang for your buck for each. Be sure to get the finer details right and don’t let your agency persuade you that the overall project works with or without it.


  • Keep an eye out for genuine work. With so many free themes and templates available, make sure your agency uses their brains instead of slapping on your requirements to an existing design. You could probably approach a freelancer to do that for half the cost.